SPREE students turn on the lights in Vanuatu

10 Jul 2018
students installing solar panels in Vanuatu

A three-year campaign to restore electrical services to communities battered by Cyclone Pam is providing a rich learning experience for students. 

Lights and phone charging are being installed for the first time, and other electrical services restored, in the remote towns and villages of Tanna, Vanuatu, thanks to visits by UNSW students.

A group of four enrolled students and three volunteers went to the remote areas this month, led by UNSW School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering's (SPREE's) Dr Richard Corkish, who is the Chief Operating Officer, US Australia Institute of Advance Photovoltaics, and Tanya Spisbah, Head of International Strategic Engagement International Affairs.

Richard and his SPREE students have been volunteering their time and expertise in Vanuatu in the three years since the nation was struck by Cyclone Pam, in March 2015. The cyclone is regarded as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Vanuatu and the nation still faces many challenges. Richard and the students have restored electricity in Tanna to much needed aid posts, dispensaries and school buildings that were devastated by Cyclone Pam. 

On this trip, the team is aiming to ship to remote villages about 70 second-hand solar modules that were obtained and generously facilitated by Redlands School in Mosman and its Alternative Technology Association.

“There is a lot of work to be done to restore the basic needs of people living in these villages,” Richard says. “We are installing solar panels and batteries to aid posts and buildings. When we leave we walk away feeling satisfied that we are helping to deliver lighting and knowing the huge benefits this will bring, particularly to the women and children of the villages.”

Engineers like to learn, solve problems and help society at large and that’s just what the students are doing in Tanna. The visits provide a challenging and profound learning experience for the students as they provide them with basic services to people who need it the most.

There are nearly 80 islands in Vanuatu and over 30 aid posts dotted over the island of Tanna. Richard’s mission is to restore basic services to those posts, with six posts and a handful of dispensaries completed so far and some rooms of a secondary school in Lamlu village also now with lighting.

The group’s trip is not a charity mission but, rather, an opportunity to help society in a way that also provides an outstanding learning opportunity for UNSW SPREE students.

Funding is available through to 2019 from UNSW’s Institute of Global Development (IGD) and the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering. The work is possible also thanks to generous supporters and donors, and support provided by the local communities.

For more information visit UNSW students' Vanuatu Solar Energy Project.

If you are interested in donating, contact Donate@UNSW referring to “Vanuatu Development Student Project (PS20997)".